Dan Ariely knows how to spot liars and cheats: he just looks for humans. His research team at Duke University studies our behavior and he’s found that people are willing to be dishonest in almost any situation.
Ariely is an interesting guy. He comes off as entertaining and comical in his Ted Talks, as well as his documentary on Netflix entitled (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies. Even the name of his research laboratory, The Center for Advanced Hindsight, reveals his fondness for humor. But when you deal with as many liars as Ariely does on a daily basis, you have to laugh.
Dr. Ariely’s research is based on very simple tests. Participants are handed pieces of paper that contain elementary math problems and given a certain amount of time to solve them. At the end of the test, the subjects walk forward, tell the proctor how many questions they got right, collect the payment for correct answers, and then destroy their test in a document shredder.
Well, sort of….
The paper shredder is rigged. Dr. Ariely’s sneaky team retrieves the documents from the paper shredder and counts the number of actual right answers. The findings paint a very grim picture of our species: we’re a bunch of liars. Across his career, he’s manipulated the test in various ways, but by and large, the same disappointing results follow.
Then he had an idea.
He brought in two separate groups to take the test. Prior to taking the test, he asked one group to list books from their high school reading list, but he asked the other group to list the Ten Commandments. The results?
While many in the first group deceitfully reported a higher number of correct answers, no one in the second group cheated. How do we explain the findings? A tempting conclusion to draw would be to equate religiosity with a higher morality; however, this argument doesn’t hold, since in a follow-up study with atheist participants, recalling the Ten Commandments had the exact same effect. Rather, what was at play here was the power of a moral reminder: Prime a person to think about ethics right before they have an opportunity to cheat, and they’ll avoid immoral behavior.
Interesting. Simply contemplating the Ten Commandments completely eliminated cheating – even in the lives of atheists. There’s power in God’s Word. Maybe that’s why He commands us to be ever-mindful of what He has taught us.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Click here for the online report.
Topics Illustrated Include:
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)